By Nicholas Godfrey
Japan: Last year’s champion two-year-old colt Contrail (Yoshito Yahagi/Yuichi Fukunaga) looked a superstar in the making when overwhelming fellow G1 winner Salios in a stirring battle for the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2,000 Guineas) at Nakayama on Sunday.
Yuichi Fukunaga, who was completing a nap hand in Japan’s Classics, earned plaudits for an excellent ride on the son of Deep Impact in the 245 million yen (£1.82m) contest, in which he had to overcome a nasty draw in box one of an 18-runner field.
Both Contrail and Salios were unbeaten going into the first leg of the Japanese Triple Crown – run over 1m2f rather than 1m of European Guineas. They were also the only previous G1 winners in the race – hardly surprising as there are only two such top-level events for juvenile males in Japan.
Sent off 17-10 favourite, Hopeful Stakes winner Contrail broke well enough on his seasonal debut before dropping back through the field while sticking on the rail until Fukunaga moved him out at halfway.
Salios had the run of the race, however, sitting just behind a decent pace before taking the lead when he got a lovely split between horses in the straight.
Contrail, in contrast, had to circle six wide rounding the final turn before delivering his challenge towards the centre of the track and getting the better of his battle with the game Salios to score by a half-length. The principals, sure to renew rivalry in the Tokyo Yushun (Derby) in a month’s time, pulled 3½ lengths away from third-placed Galore Creek.
“He won strongly today,” reported Fukunaga, winning his 26th G1 title on the JRA circuit. “The race itself wasn’t the way as I had expected – I actually wanted to race further up in front as usual.
“But as it turned out, he wasn’t keen to go up front early and I didn’t push him so we were positioned much farther behind going around the second turn, so I had no choice but to change lanes to the outside after that.
“But with the way he was moving in the post-parade and the response once I took him to the outside, I had every confidence in him entering the stretch. He felt so powerful that I thought we might pull away but Salios didn’t let us win so easily.
“Winning the way he did today, I am confident that he has every reason to handle the extended distance in the coming Derby.”
• Learn more about Racing in Japan at the Japan Racing Association website